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Do you know, in two and a bit years of writing a blog about gardening and growing food, I’ve never written a post about earthworms?  Other garden wildlife yes.  Bees have featured (a lot), butterflies and ladybirds too, but not a thing about worms.  And while they don’t have the good looks and charm of your average bumblebee*, worms play just as important a role in the garden.

A handful of worms

To grow good, healthy plants sustainably we need good, healthy soil.  And to keep the soil good and healthy, we need earthworms.  Without their burrows forming pores that aerate the soil, allowing air and water to move through, and their casts to create a nice fine crumb, the structure of the soil would be very different.  Worms also help in the decomposition of organic matter by eating dead plant material and breaking it down into smaller pieces before bacteria and fungi finish off the process.  Through their burrowing and pulling organic matter from the surface deeper into the earth, worms help to keep things mixed up too – making sure there’s food, oxygen and water down near the roots of our cabbages, beans and tulips.

Tulips

And they’re good food too.  No, don’t worry, there’s no recipe for worm soufflé at the end of this post… I’m not that adventurous with food.  But worms do make a good meal for birds, moles, badgers and hedgehogs.  As such, they’re an important part of the food chain.

So why the sudden interest in earthworms?  Well, Riverford Organic Farms have launched an earthworm survey… ‘the big worm dig’ this year.  It’s a chance for everyone to join in and count worms.  And it’s not just for fun – the data collect through the survey will be used to assess the state of the British earthworm population – distribution, numbers and ecology.

Worms in soil

What are you waiting for?  You can do your bit for earthworm research by clicking over to the Riverford big worm dig website, downloading their survey booklet, and getting out there counting worms.  After all, earthworms aren’t just important for healthy gardens.  They’re the key to healthy farms too – and everyone who eats food needs healthy farms to produce it.

* You’ll notice from the uninspiring photos accompanying this post that they’re not as photogenic as bumblebees either.

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